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Photoshop repair tools

For the past six months or so, I’ve worked almost exclusively in Lightroom for post-processing. It takes care very well of most things I need in straight photography. However, I now feel the need to explore the use of Photoshop as a canvas to manipulate and combine images from the camera. This was triggered by a recent visit to the Pushkin Museum of Fine Art in Moscow; my guide explained how Paul Gauguin used a collection of disconnected reference images, which were combined in his paintings (for example ancient Greek and Egyptian figures) to create his vision. I saw the same referents recurring in different contexts and stories.

I now plan to systematically experiment with Photoshop and write it down (it is not particularly intuitive, so I find if I don’t use it, I loose it within a few months!). I start with the repair tools, with the guidance of Robin Whalley.

Lightroom provides a single repair too – spot removal. This works well for just that purpose, but for major surgery it is unsuitable. In Photoshop, there are several basic tools:

  1. Spot healing brush tool – this is similar to the LR tool. It is suitable for removing dust spots and similar and makes an automatic selection of the healing source. This is it’s limitation in visually crowded images – it can pick an inappropriate source and create a bit of a mess.
  2. Healing brush tool – this difference between this and the spot healing brush is that the user can select the source for healing [cmd-click], making it much more versatile and useable to remove whole objects from photos by copying pixels from other parts of the photo.
  3. Patch tool – this works slight differently in that one first selects the area to be healed and then drags it to the part of the photo to be used as the healing source. It is useful if there is a similar area that can be copied.
  4. In addition, there is the clone tool – this appears in a separate icon group (looks like a stamp). In use it is a little like the healing brush tool but clones pixels from a another part of the image, rather than a lighter touch of healing.

These tools sound a little blunt at face value. However, the settings that underpin them make them surprisingly effective at creating seamless results. Some key practical points to remember:

  • Create an empty layer in PS and when using the tools, check the ‘sample all layers’ option. This allows an edit over the background image, while leaving it intact, and the possibility of re-editing using a fresh layer if things go wrong.
  • For healing activities, the ‘content aware’ setting should be selected, as this heels in a way sympathetic to its surroundings (perhaps like a good plastic-surgeon).
  • There are other settings within each tool – it is good to experiment with these to understand their effect. For example, in the patch tool there are settings to control the level of structural and colour matching in the heal. Clever stuff indeed!

Finally a practical example:

Before – lamp-post spoiling view
After - no lamp-post
After – no lamp-post

The approach was to first use the smart selection tool to select the lamp-post. I then switched to the patch tool to replace the post. This left a few untidy edges (black patches in the sky), which were tidied up using the healing brush tool.


Whalley R (2013) Essential Photoshop: how to use 9 essential tools and techniques. Amazon Kindle edition.

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